Ethics Requirements for Business Managers?


Should business managers take an oath akin to the Hippocratic Oath taken by physicians? One where the central premise is "Do no harm"? Last month, Jim Kim at FierceSarbox pointed to a post in the Harvard Business Publishing blog that made just such a suggestion.


Angel Cabrera, who serves as president of the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Arizona, said the school's board of trustees has developed its own code of honor, which is incorporated into its admissions process, curriculum, and graduation ceremonies. Cabrera writes:

We are yet to prove empirically whether the initiative will have a meaningful impact on the professional conduct of our graduates, but third-party assessments indicate that our students may be more sensitive to the broader set of social responsibilities of managers than the average MBA student.

He emphasizes that "service to the greater good" is not inconsistent with creating value for shareholders and says that it "grounds shareholder value morally."


The idea is an intriguing one, but as Kim notes, morality cannot be legislated, and "bad actors" will always abound. For an oath like this to work, it has to have teeth. Lawyers and physicians are held to ethics standards by their licensing boards. If they don't act ethically, they risk losing their licenses, and by extension, their livelihoods.


Until a similar standard is in place for business managers, an oath they take in school may not stick with them past graduation.